Prarop Plangngarn, Chief of “Operations Center 2” at Sirinath Marine National Park, on Phuket’s northwest coast, and Haritchai Rittichuay, Chief of the Khao Lampi – Hat Thai Mueang National Park, north of Phuket in Phang Nga province, along with other nature and environmental protection officers decided at a meeting last month to survey areas where the zones would be most appropriate – namely in the areas adjacent to the two national parks.
“Presently, there are only a few areas that are suitable for turtles to lay their eggs because of the continual expansion of human communities and the tourism industry,” Mr Prapop told The Phuket News.
“The turtles are afraid of humans on shore, so relevant officers must take action to change the environmental factors to help encourage turtles to come ashore to lay their eggs.
“We need to create turtle protection areas, and we need to do it quickly. We will start surveying the areas to decide where the turtle protection zones should be by the end of this month,” he said.
In Phuket, the areas already under consideration include the beaches at Nai Yang as well as Mai Khao Beach – at 14 kilometres long, Phuket’s longest beach – all the way to Sai Kaew Beach on the northwestern tip of the island.
Mr Prarop explained that although Sirinath Marine National Park includes all these beaches, only at the southern end of the park does the park boundary include areas on shore.
All along Mai Khao Beach and Sai Kaew beach, the park includes the beach areas, but not the land immediately behind the sands, where many hotels, resorts, guesthouses and restaurants are built to offer scenic views to tourists.
“Turtles have returned to laying eggs in the area. We have not seen this for years. The last time leatherback turtles were spotted returning to Sirinath national park was in 2013,” Mr Prarop said.
“From October through December, turtles came ashore near a luxury resort on the headland just south of the park and laid eight different nests of turtle eggs,’ Mr Prarop pointed out.
“The eggs were taken into care by officials from the Phuket Marine Biological Center [PMBC]. We strongly believe more turtles will come back to lay more eggs,” he said.
For the coastal national park north of Phuket, Park Chief Haritchai explained that the impetus for creating the zone there follows leatherback sea turtles finally returning to lay eggs at Thai Mueang and Natai Beach in recent months.
“Two leatherback turtle nests were found in the park within weeks of each other late last year. The first nest was found at Thai Mueang Beach, and the second nest was found on Tha Theng Beach in Tambon Natai on Nov 26, 12km from the first nest,” he said.
“We are looking to create a turtle protection zone that includes both areas where turtle eggs were laid. The protection zone will cover more than 13km along the beach and extend 1.5km into the sea, covering 20.4 square kilometres in total.
“If any turtle lays egg in the area, we want the eggs to be protected,” he explained.
The turtle protection zones aim to have all businesses and developers in the areas agree to terms laid out in a joint declaration drawn up and signed in February last year by local hotels and resorts, tour operators and local officials already located in or operating in the two key areas.
As such, those in the protection zones abide to reduce the impact of electrical lighting along the beachfront, to reduce the number and intensity of beach parties and other activities on the beaches, to keep the beaches clean and reduce the impact of waste at the beach, and to improve awareness and understanding among local communities in areas near the protection zones.
“Already 10 hotels in Phuket and another 18 in Phang Nga have joined the campaign,” Mr Prarop said, adding that the goal is to positively promote those who do step up to protect turtles by publicly listing them.
“Tourists are smarter and more aware of environmental issues these days, and given a choice between booking a holiday with a business that supports turtle conservation and a business that does not – they will choose the business that does the right thing every time.
“Hence, I expect more hotels will join this project soon,” Mr Prarop added.
“However, we need more hotels and private operators to step up and help create more effective change. We welcome them to join the project.
“Any hotels or businesses wanting to join the project can contact the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation,” Mr Prarop said.